Hey friends! Apologies for the unexpected quiet on Sunday. I wasn’t able to get Weekend Reading up this weekend, but the thoughts and links are tucked away for next time.
I’ve never had that much luck with spontaneous cooking; for better or for worse, I’m not the type of home cook who peeks into the fridge, grabs whatever is on hand, and whips up a spontaneous meal with intuition as my guide. I make better food, and enjoy cooking a lot more, when I have a plan.
Sometimes, though, one of those last minute, use-what-you’ve-got meals does work out. This dish of grilled polenta with chickpeas, artichokes, and tomatoes came together in my head as I was looking through my pantry: I’ve always got canned beans and tomatoes in there, and I’ve pretty much always got cornmeal, too. This week, I happened to have a can of quartered artichokes that I’d planned to put in a salad sometime and never did. From all of that, dinner was born.
I won’t lie: making the grilled polenta here isn’t nearly as quick or easy as making soft polenta, like grits. But the end result is a really pleasant base for vegetable and legume toppings, and you can freeze the rectangles once you’ve gone to the trouble of making them. I made them in my grill pan, and they turned out beautifully.
The topping was a happy surprise, a combination I hadn’t really used before but which worked out nicely. The saltiness of the artichokes paired well with the sweetness and acidity of tomatoes, and the chickpeas give the dish texture, as well as a dose of plant protein. I didn’t really add any herbs here—garlic and shallots give plenty of flavor on their own—but oregano, basil, or parsley would all work nicely.
As for finishing the dish, vegan parmesan (like my homemade walnut herb parm, or a store-bought option) is perfect. But I’ve been completely inconsistent in remembering to add it to my leftovers, and the dish is lovely without it, too. Here’s the recipe.
For the Grilled Polenta
- 1 1/2 cups polenta (or medium grind cornmeal)
- 4 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
- 1 tablespoon vegan butter
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the Chickpeas, Artichokes & Tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (substitute a few tablespoons vegetable broth)
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced or minced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes, drained
- 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (1 can, drained and rinsed)
- 1 1/2 cups quartered artichoke hearts (1 14.5-ounce can, drained)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- vegan parmesan and/or chopped fresh parsley or basil, for topping
- To make the polenta, preheat your oven to 350F and lightly grease a 9 x 9 inch square baking dish. Bring the broth or water to a boil, then add the polenta in a thin stream. Reduce the heat to low. Cook the polenta, stirring frequently, for 5-8 minutes, or according to package instructions. (You may wish to wear an oven mitt for stirring, as polenta spatters furiously!) The polenta is ready when it has the consistency of grits or porridge. Stir in the butter and vegan parmesan, if using, then season the polenta to taste with salt and pepper.
- Pour the polenta into your prepared baking dish and bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is set and the polenta is browning at the edges. Let the polenta cool for 2 hours, or allow it to cool completely before refrigerating for up to 2 days.
- To make the chickpea topping, place the tomatoes into a mixing bowl and use a potato masher to crush them. You can also use a pair of clean kitchen sheers to cut them up into pieces. Set the tomatoes aside.
- Heat the olive oil (or broth, if substituting) in a large, deep skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often, or until the shallots are clear and soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste to the skillet and stir; cook the paste with the garlic and shallots for another minute. Then, stir in the smashed or cut tomatoes. Reduce the heat to low and cook the tomatoes for 5 minutes, or until they've released their juices and thickened up in your pan. Stir in the artichokes and chickpeas, and heat everything through. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper.
- Cut the polenta into 6 rectangles and remove them from the baking dish. Lightly oil a skillet or grill pan and allow it to warm up over medium high heat (if you have a regular, outdoor grill, you can use it, too!). Add the polenta to the grill pan or skillet and either grill or lightly sear the rectangles for 3-4 minutes per side, or the pieces are crisp and golden.
- To serve, scoop about 3/4 cup of the chickpea mixture over each polenta rectangle. Top with vegan parmesan or fresh herbs, if desired, and serve.
A couple of additional notes on the recipe: first, you don’t have to use whole, peeled tomatoes. You can use diced ones, too. I like the whole ones because I think they’re more flavorful, and because I can leave them in bigger pieces than the canned and diced ones. It feels like a closer approximation of having fresh tomatoes in wintertime, when I haven’t had them in a while. But either whole or diced will work.
Also, you can most definitely whip up beds of soft polenta for the recipe, rather than the grilled rectangles. I just made the chickpea topping again, and now I’ve tried it over soft polenta, pasta, and toast. All good.
Finally, I served my meal with broccoli rabe, which is the green that I had, but you could serve it with a salad or any crucifer or green. You could even stir baby spinach or kale or another green into the chickpea mixture as it cooks, if you need this to be more of a one-pot affair.
No matter how you serve it, I hope you’ll enjoy this flavorful and hearty meal. And I’ll be back soon, for real this time, for some weekend sharing ?